Known for its dazzling musicianship, its intricate fusion of metal, punk and reggae, not to mention its acidic political commentary, Bad Brains formed in 1979 in Washington, D.C.'s Maryland suburbs. The band members had been playing as a jazz-fusion outfit called Mind Power until a friend lent them some punk records. Their interest piqued, this group of musicians soon to be known as Bad Brains checked out a Ramones show and was floored. After that, they bought Rocket to Russia and amused themselves by playing the LP at 78 rpm and pogoing to their hearts' content.
Bad Brains, like groundbreaking punks Iggy Pop and the Ramones, has had to feed itself with the scraps typically thrown at pioneers: The guys have had to remain satisfied that their influence would always exceed their sales and wider name recognition. Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys has called the Brains "the best punk-hardcore band of all time."
The group's acceptance in America's reggae scene has been almost as notable as that in planet punk. Rarely has a band flitted so smoothly between such disparate genres without getting whacked at the crossroads. Yet Bad Brains' journey has been rocky, as internal issues (specifically punk/metal-versus-reggae factions within the band) have kept the group not just from reaching commercial success but also from completing tours.
Internal conflicts have often been a problem, but personal issues with lead singer H.R., born Paul Hudson, have caused the most turmoil. During one incident, H.R. crowned a skinhead with the mike stand, and in another, during a show with the Beastie Boys, he decked that band's tour manager. As a result, Bad Brains has tried to replace the volatile singer. H.R., for his part, carried on a solo career doing mostly reggae, with occasional encores snagged from the Bad Brains songbook.
Though the original lineup -- H.R., drummer Earl Hudson, guitarist Dr. Know and bassist Darryl Jenifer -- often mixed about as well as water poured into a pan of smoldering oil, the chemistry between the members could not be ignored. They reunited in 1998, and this year finds the band back on tour under a new name: Soul Brains. The members wanted to change all that is "bad" within them, including their name. Of course, it didn't help that their ex-manager acquired the original moniker.
Their last performance in town, nearly six years ago, was memorable for new and old fans alike. Breakneck material such as "I Against I," "Pay to Cum" and "Sailin' On" were perfectly blended with the group's refreshing reggae hits. Dr. Know's guitar work and H.R.'s vocals showed that despite the aging and the bad blood, they were still in perfect harmony.